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Greatest holiday gift for Hunter is time with family

In Q&A, Tigers outfielder discusses Christmas traditions past and present

DETROIT -- Torii Hunter didn't get a chance to take part in the holiday spirit in Michigan like he had planned. The ice storm that hit Texas earlier this month kept the Tigers All-Star outfielder from making the trip to Detroit for the Tigers' annual Holiday Giving Party for foster care kids and their families. He still lent his support.

It put the finishing touch on a year in which Hunter tried to give back to the community that became his baseball home last season.

"My wife [Katrina] said we should do that, because a lot of guys are with their families and don't get a chance to come up back to Detroit," Hunter said. "We decided we should do that and get back in the community and show that we really believe in this. But we had the storm and we couldn't make it there. We wish we could've been there, because our kids are off playing college football."

Indeed, the first year for the Hunters as empty-nesters has put a new twist on their holiday season. Instead of Christmas with all the kids, son Torii Jr. will spend the holiday in New York with the Notre Dame football team at a ballpark his father knows quite well. The Fighting Irish will face Rutgers on Dec. 28 at Yankee Stadium. Torii Jr., a freshman wide receiver redshirting this season, made the travel squad for the game.

"A place where I've roamed a couple years," said the elder Hunter, who had interest from the Yankees last offseason before signing with Detroit. "They're going to practice there a couple times. It's pretty cool. It's a great experience for all those kids. Experience is the most important thing in the world. Some people think experience will be like a nice car, but those things fade away."

The Hunter family won't be there. Instead, they'll welcome their son home after that game for his remaining winter break. They'll travel together to another bowl game to watch another son, Monshadrik "Money" Hunter. He's a starting defensive back for Arkansas State, which will face Ball State on Jan. 5 in the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

"I'm taking 10 of my family members, and I'm going to be supportive," Torii Hunter said. "I'm a dad. I'm a fan. It's been fun just traveling. It's been fun hanging with the kids and going to practice. I've been traveling a lot this offseason."

For this Christmas, however, Hunter will stick close to home. Since both his mother and extended family and his wife's family live in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, they don't have to worry about hitting the highways.

Hunter took a few minutes last week to talk about holiday traditions: You've talked about your upbringing in tough times before. What was Christmas like for you growing up?

Hunter: Let's not forget that the reason for the season is Jesus Christ. My mom always said that. Yes, there are gifts, but the true gift was Jesus being born, and she would always say that. When I get older I started understanding what she was saying.

I always wanted gifts, and my mom couldn't give us much, because I had three siblings and we didn't have much money. We'd get those little green army men, because we could go up to the dollar store and get those for a dollar. We might get a couple other things. My favorite was a remote control car, because my uncle would buy it. We were so excited, we'd always break it within 24 hours because we played with it every minute.

We were grateful, and we appreciated everything. But the main reason for the season, and I know not everybody's Christian, is that everybody has that giving spirit. You can give gifts of material things, but giving your time and your effort is good too, going to homes and just visiting and smiling and talking to people. Those are great gifts when you're doing that, not just little green men or a remote control car. When you're visiting people or opening the door for someone at the mall, it's a great gift, or saying, 'You look nice today.' If you can lift somebody's day, that's a gift. What are the holidays like for you now?

Hunter: For me and my family, I always tell them God has blessed us. It's Christmas every day for my family. So on Christmas, we get together and play cards and play games and laugh and eat. Not so many gifts being thrown around, but the main gift is family coming together. Most of us are spread out around different cities, and the main gift is coming together and telling stories and telling jokes for five or six days. The greatest gift is not to be alone, and that's what my family figured out after so much time. We don't really give many gifts in my family. We come together and enjoy the moment. Those gifts, they fade away, but those moments never fade away. Any big family traditions?

Hunter: My wife, she's from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as well. We open gifts at my wife's house in the morning. We sit around, we talk and laugh and then we go to my mom's house and open gifts over there. So I'm doing a lot of different sides. It's an all-day event. We're playing cards over at my mom's house and laughing and cracking jokes.

Family is everything, not just in my life, but for the people reading this. It's about family, but I think some people just kind of forgot about it. It's not about stress. It's not about putting yourself in debt. How much different will it be with the kids all grown and in college?

Hunter: Actually, our kids, they won't get no gifts. It's Christmas every day with them suckers. [Laughs.] When they get that age, 19, 18, you actually get, 'Hey, don't buy me a gift.' But you still want to do that. They say, 'Hey, give me the money, and I'll get my own gift.' Or they don't want anything at all. They'll stay around every day, but this Christmas, they have bowl games.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

Detroit Tigers, Torii Hunter